The 90-Second Rule To Manage Your Emotions
It only takes us 90 seconds to identify an emotion and let it pass.
Most emotions last 90 seconds. If after 90 seconds we still maintain an emotional response to what happened, it is because we decided to stay in that emotional loop. These are the conclusions of Harvard Neuroanatomy Doctor Jill Bolte Taylor. “When a person reacts to something that happens in his environment, a chemical process begins in his body. This process takes 90 seconds.
The 90-second rule
Let’s see an example. When the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for detecting danger, considers that there is a possible threat to our well-being (for example, an unpleasant message at work), it begins a chemical process that prepares us to face the danger. Stress hormones ( cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine ) are produced and released into the bloodstream. Muscles tense, breathing and pulse change.
“Chemicals run through the body that put it on full alert. For those chemicals to dissipate completely, it takes less than 90 seconds , ”says the doctor.
Sounds wonderful. But… Why do our emotional reactions often last longer?
feeding the loop
If after 90 seconds, the person continues to experience the emotion, “it means that they decide to stay trapped in the emotional loop,” explains Dr. Tayor.
The thoughts and interpretations re-stimulate the neural circuitry and generate the emotional reaction, over and over again. If you “rewind” an unpleasant conversation, you will still feel the same or worse than when it happened, even if hours have passed.
That tendency to get stuck or overthink things is called mental rumination. Rumination is associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety and the inability to regulate emotional states effectively.
The effect of mindfulness on emotional management
Dr. Taylor’s essays highlight that mindfulness practice can help emotions flow through us more easily. Mindfulness is the ability to maintain attention in the present moment, observing the experience with equanimity and without judgment.
Next, we are going to see the three steps of emotional management in 90 seconds.
1. Identify the emotion one is experiencing
All emotions have an associated physiological component. For example, if you are angry you may notice a rise in body temperature or muscle tension.
The challenge is to be aware of the changes in the physical sensations of the body from moment to moment. It is the skill that trains Mindfulness.
2. Give the emotion a name
Naming how you feel can help you take back control. No need to say it out loud. It can be a simple mental note. For example, “I am getting angry” or “there is a frustration in me”.
Acknowledge your emotional state without judgment of yourself or the experience. Remember that emotions are involuntary reactions and it is completely natural and healthy to feel the way you feel. As simple as this step may seem, it has a powerful effect on the brain.
Emotions are like waves in the sea: they appear and, if we don’t get caught up in them, they disappear. This third step consists of observing the manifestation of the emotion, as it is, without trying to make it change, stop or be different.
That quality of observing without interfering or being affected is trained with the practice of Mindfulness.
The additional key to that process would be to take control of rumination: the tendency to think and dwell on the matter in excess. Trials show that Mindfulness helps contain rumination and that an 8-week Mindfulness intervention is more effective in reducing rumination and depressive symptomatology than informal mindfulness techniques.
90 seconds is how long it takes for the body to eliminate the chemicals of stress emotions. That means we have 90 seconds to observe the experience and watch it go.
Speaking of unpleasant emotions… 90 seconds. It’s more than enough, right?